Media depicted violence has been around for over a century now and has evolved from literature to comics to film and finally to video games, and each stage of progression has been met with societal backlash. In the past ten years however, the rise in mass shootings has caused many politicians to point a finger at violent video games as a key factor. In the wake of these tragedies, many scholars began looking for a link between violent media consumption and violent behavior. This paper will dive into studies that look at the relationship between media violence and human aggression and determine if such a correlation exists.
To examine if a correlation exists between movie violence and human aggression a study selected 90 highest grossing films from 1920-2005 and reviewed them for violence with strict parameters. This data was then compared to homicide rates from the same time period, and found that in the middle of the 20th century movie violence appeared to coincide with societal violence, but in both the early and late 20th century movie violence was associated with decreased societal violence, making this an ecological fallacy. (Ferguson, 2015) This does not mean that there is no link between movie violence and aggressive behavior, but it does suggest that there are many other larger factors that play into human aggression.
Studying the relationship between video game violence and violent behavior is vastly different than studying movies, because of how new they are and the way that media outlets sway public perception on the topic. The term violent video game itself is so broadly defined that technically even Pac Man can be classified as a violent video game because the player has the ability to kill the ghosts. This broad definition contributed to California’s 2005 law prohibiting children from buying a M-rated game without an adult present to get struck down. (Ferguson, 2014) In addition to this media outlets use the term “violent video games” as a means to invoke an emotional response when covering their potential role in mass shootings.
Following the tragic 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary that left twenty children and six faculty/staff members dead, there were no simple answers to be found as to why this event took place. In the weeks that followed the tragedy, media outlets began making assertions that Adam Lanza was primarily influenced to commit this heinous act by an obsession with violent video games. Not long after these stories started circulating, policy makers began to take action by ordering studies on the effect that video game violence has on youth behavior. When the police report regarding the shooting finally came out in November 2013 it was revealed that Lanza did in fact play violent video games including a game that simulated a school shooting, though most of his time gaming was spent playing harmless games such as Dance and Dance Revolution. This makes it quite apparent that other factors were stronger in motivating Lanza to carry out this attack, but nonetheless the societal debate about violent video games was reignited by this event and may have caused more harm than good, given the degree to which they distract from more pressing issues such as mental health care, poverty, and educational disparities that may actually contribute to violence. (Ferguson, 2014)
The coverage of Sandy Hook is proof that media outlets have a large effect on public perception, not only by fabricating ideas about video game violence, but the way people perceive individuals with serious mental illness (SMI).